Report: Sprint working with Barnes & Noble on Kindle competitor

Companies mum; analyst sees potential for digital content device

Barnes & Noble Inc. is reportedly working with Sprint Nextel Inc. and an unnamed manufacturer to build an e-reader device to compete with Amazon Inc.'s Kindle and Sony Corp.'s digital book reader.

According to, one unnamed wireless industry insider said that Barnes & Noble was working with Sprint after discussions for a similar deal ended with Verizon Wireless. The article also indicates that AT&T could be interested in working with the bookseller.

Analysts said the report makes sense, even if unconfirmed, given all the attention on the Kindle.

"This is a new category in the wireless industry that shows great potential," said independent analyst Jeffrey Kagan. "These devices not only read books but can also read your morning paper, by having it automatically downloaded to your device every day."

Sony makes two e-readers, and Amazon's Kindle and Kindle 2 work over Sprint's wireless network.

At the International CTIA Wireless conference last week, AT&T officials said they want to wirelessly enable many consumer electronics devices, including e-readers.

An AT&T spokesman today said he couldn't confirm any information on an e-reader deal with Barnes & Noble. "We've said we want to wirelessly enable e-book readers along with many other devices, but we're saying nothing specific," he said.

A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman declined to comment. However, during a recent earnings call, CEO Steve Riggio hinted at the company's plans to delve into digital content. "We plan to return to the business of offering customers digital content inclusive of e-books, newspapers and magazines," Riggio said during the call.

"We have a large number of assets in place to enable us to sell digital content," he added, citing the company's e-commerce platform, in-house customer service and its recent acquisition of Fictionwise.

Riggio said that the company has several initiatives in development and will announce them as they launch.

A Sprint official also would not comment but in an e-mailed statement said that many "fun" devices will be unveiled in coming months.

"Look to Sprint to continue to bring a variety of new and exciting devices out in 2009. ... Sprint does not comment on rumors about our device portfolio, however, I promise you there are several fun products in the works for this year and we are anxious to bring them to our customers as soon as possible."

Steven Pendergrast, president of the new e-reader segment at Barnes & Noble, recently predicted a "huge surge" in e-book sales in 2010. Pendergrast was part of Fictionwise LLC before Barnes & Noble purchased the company for $15.7 million last month. noted that Barnes & Noble ended a three-year e-book partnership with Microsoft Corp. and Adobe Systems Inc. in 2003 because of disappointing demand for a tablet device they produced.

But the segment seems to have been reinvigorated, several analysts said. Amazon expects to net $63 million in profit from the Kindle, with more than $280 million in sales in 2009, according to Sandeep Aggarwal, an analyst at Collins Stewart.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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